Io is a character in Greek myths. A priestess of the goddess Hera, Io attracts the amorous attention of the god Zeus. Hera, who is Zeus’ wife and sister, is furious. Unfortunately, Io becomes a cow. One version says that Zeus transforms Io into a bovine to hide her from the wrathful Hera, but another version holds that Hera changes Io into a cow. Which sounds more likely to you?
|Io Moths Photographed by Patrick Coin|
As a cow, Io roams much of the classical world. Bosporus (as in the Bosporus strait) means ox passage and refers to one of Io’s wandering routes. Eventually (and why he does not do this sooner is beyond me), Zeus changes Io back into a woman. She has a son and a daughter by Zeus, and she marries an Egyptian king. More children follow. Lots of her descendants are heroes. As a cow, Io had horns, so it was an easy step for people in the classical world to link her to the horned, or crescent, moon.
The io moth flies on moonlit nights … er, on any night, moonlit or moonless. Like the polyphemus moth, the io moth is a member of the Saturniidae family and has prominent eyespots on the hind wings. The females (which, in my experience, are somewhat larger than the males) have a foxy brown color, with some having redder tones than others. Most males are a cheerful yellow, although some have reddish brown forewings somewhat like those of the females. The difference in the coloring of the females and males explains why they are considered dimorphic, which means existing in two distinct forms.
The io moth’s wingspan is between two and a half inches and three and a half inches—not as wide as that of the polyphemus moth and other similar moths.
When I was growing up on a farm in Indiana, I found many io moths. I know they lived in my mother’s vegetable garden because I found the cocoons there. Perhaps the larvae fed on the blackberry plants along the edge of the garden. The io cocoons that I found were insubstantial nothings so flimsy that I could almost see between the tiny threads of which they were composed. They lay among the leaf litter in the dust of the cultivated soil next to the berries that bordered the garden. The scientific name is Automeris io, but this moth has gone under a wide variety of names: Bombyx io, Phalaena io, and Hyperchiria io. Indiana author Gene Stratton–Porter called it Hyperchiria io. I call it spectacular.
Sadly, the number of io moths has declined—some say since the time when a parasitic fly was introduced to help control the gypsy moth. I have found no io moths since I was a lad helping my mother in her garden.